Thursday, April 15, 2010

Essex County Executive DiVincenzo Announces Acquisition of 12.33 Acres for Parkland in Newark’s Ironbound Neighborhood (04/15/10)

Not every piece of news about open space preservation has to happen in an area where there's already a lot of it. In Newark, one of the state's most densely populated and notorious cities, a 12.33-acre parcel has been acquired for riverfront parkland. While 12.33 acres might not be much in, say, Upper Freehold, it is a much-needed boon for the state's largest city as it continues to recover from decades of decline. This story was picked up from

Essex County Executive DiVincenzo Announces Acquisition of 12.33 Acres for Parkland in Newark’s Ironbound Neighborhood
By Office of the Essex County Executive

Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr. announced that Essex County acquired 12.33 acres of property in the Newark Ironbound neighborhood on Wednesday, April 14th. The parcel will be redeveloped into Essex County Riverfront Park, which will be the 21st Essex County park and the fourth new park added to the historic Essex County Park System in the last four years. In addition, the creation of the urban parkland fulfills a goal shared by State, County, Municipal and community leaders for the last 20 years.

"The Ironbound has extremely vibrant commercial and residential communities, and is one of the most densely developed and populated areas in the State. The County and City parks in this neighborhood are among the most heavily used, and at any time of the day there will be people of all ages engaged in sports and socializing. Open space for passive and active recreation has been lacking for generations, and we all shared the same dream of creating this park," DiVincenzo said. "I’m glad that we never gave up. It took us two decades to get to this point and we would not have come this far without everyone working together," he added.

"The Governor made it clear that he is committed to the success of New Jersey and our largest city," said Port Authority of NY/NJ Deputy Executive Director Bill Baroni. "The Port Authority is committed to the development of our communities and we want to make sure our neighbors have the opportunity to enjoy open space," he added.

"The development of our city is tied to the Passaic River, but something tragic happened over the years where we became separated from the water," Newark Mayor Cory A. Booker said. "Today we are reclaiming the river and opening it up for future generations. This is being achieved because of the persistence and determination of community people in the East Ward who would not give up and the leadership of County Executive DiVincenzo, who is the best park builder," he noted.

"Transforming this 12 acres of property into an oasis of open space for residents and children to enjoy is a vision that is shared by everyone," NJ State Senator and Essex County Deputy Chief of Staff Teresa Ruiz said. "When people share the same dreams, come together and work cooperatively, great things like this will happen," she noted.

Essex County and the Essex County Improvement Authority took the lead in organizing the acquisition of the six parcels of land that make up the 12.33-acre waterfront property. DiVincenzo lobbied Governor Chris Christie and Port Authority of NY/NJ Deputy Executive Director Bill Baroni to provide $7.7 million in grant funding to purchase the land. The Essex County Recreation and Open Space Trust Fund Advisory Board also loaned $700,000 in funding for the project. Newark Mayor Booker and the Newark City Council supported the initiative by transferring to the County ownership of a section of the former Morris Canal that will be part of the park.

"I am excited about today. This is the right thing to do for the residents of Essex County," Freeholder President Blonnie Watson said. "Open space is more than just recreation. It’s about fresh air, getting exercise and feeling comfortable, which Essex County Riverfront Park will become," she added.

"Not too long ago, the shipping containers on these sites were an eyesore in this community. But because of the community speaking up and never giving up, we are here today to make this announcement," Freeholder Samuel Gonzalez said. "The development of Riverfront Park will be the greatest thing to happen in this neighborhood and Essex County," he noted.

"This will be a huge addition to the Ironbound," Sheriff Armando Fontoura said. "The needs of our community are the same as they were when I was growing up here. The biggest problem we had was getting to the park and finding a place to play games because it was so crowded. The recreation opportunities this park will create are important," he added.

The new park will be called "Essex County Riverfront Park" and will contain a walking path along the bank southern bank of the Passaic River, recreation fields and a parking area. The park stretches from Brill Street to Oxford Street. It is bounded by Newark Housing Authority property on the east side, the Passaic River on the north side, Raymond Boulevard on the south side and a public greenway on the west side. Once the park is created, the public greenway will stretch from Essex County Riverbank Park at Van Buren Street to Brill Street, a length that includes nine city blocks.

"This new park is an opportunity to provide our children with a safe place to play," Newark Councilman Augusto Amador said. "I want to give my sincere thank you, on behalf of this community, to County Executive Joe DiVincenzo for keeping his promise and working with us to make this park become a reality," he added.

"For too long, the Ironbound community has been overlooked. This is a huge step forward," Assemblyman Albert Coutinho said. "Think about the significance of this project. There is nothing as important that has ever been done to improve this community," he pointed out.

"This community should not only place importance on preserving the parks we have, but we should have more places for our kids to play and our senior to relax," Ironbound Community Corporation Executive Director Joseph Della Fave said. He pointed out that creating a new park was a goal when he came to the ICC in 1991. "This is a significant milestone. It will become part of an open space network that will bring people to Newark and be a place where thousands of children will come and play," he added.

"We thank you so much, County Executive. We will be able to walk, ride bikes, roller blade. This will be such a blessing for our residents," SPARK President Nancy Zak said.

Good faith negotiations with the three property owners began several months ago. Despite all efforts, the owners did not agree to sell their land. Essex County entered into condemnation proceedings with Superior Court in Essex County. The Court will determine a fair market value for the property, which the County is required to pay the property owners. The County will work to relocate any existing businesses on the site. Governments can condemn property for public uses, which includes public parks, government buildings, school buildings, roadways, etc.
The properties being acquired include the following:

· Ruben Properties of Newark owned three parcels totaling 5.55 acres.
· ORFAC of Newark owned one parcel totaling 2.329 acres.
· The Palmer Site is 3.57 acres.
· The City of Newark transferred ownership of the former Morris Canal site to Essex County. The park is about 0.88 acres.

The concept for Essex County Riverfront Park hit the drawing board in the early 1990 and gained steam when Essex County and the City of Newark partnered to create Bears and Eagles Riverfront Stadium for the Newark Bears of the Atlantic League. Essex County Riverbank Park originally was proposed as the site for the stadium and the 12.33 acres of land at Brill Street would be developed as a "replacement" park. Although the stadium was construction on Broad Street in Downtown Newark, the idea to create a new park did not disappear.

Essex County Riverfront Park is the fourth new park to be added to the Essex County Park System in the last four years. Essex County Kip’s Castle Park in Montclair and Verona was created in 2007 when the County purchased the historic structure and 11 acres of property using grants from the NJ Green Acres program and the Essex County Recreation and Open Space Trust Fund. In May 2009, Essex County preserved the Presby Memorial Iris Gardens in a unique partnership with the Presby Memorial Iris Gardens Citizens Committee, the NJ Green Acres program, the Township of Montclair and the Essex County Recreation and Open Space Trust Fund. The 2.7-acre Essex County Veterans Memorial Park in the Essex County Government Complex in Newark was opened in September 2009 after and out-of-date parking garage was redeveloped into parkland. The project was funded with grants from the NJ Green Acres program and the Essex County Recreation and Open Space Trust Fund. At 12.33 acres, Essex County Riverbank Park will be the fifth smallest park in the Essex County Park System.

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